PCS Blog

The Legend of 40 Whacks

Posted by Alice Hodge | 16 May 2014


Ask anyone on the street what they know of Lizzie Borden and chances are high they will probably respond with this skipping-rope rhyme: Lizzie Borden took an axe/Gave her mother forty whacks...

Despite the historical inaccuracies — it was a hachet, not an ax; Lizzie's stepmother suffered 18 or 19 blows, her father suffered 11; Lizzie was aquitted of the charges — over a century later, this rhyme still serves as the foundation of our collective knowledge of Lizzie Borden and the murders of Andrew and Abby Borden.

No one knows who wrote it, but we do know people started singing the rhyme shortly after the bodies were discovered. Folklore says that the rhyme was made up by an anonymous writer as a tune to sell newspapers. Or maybe it was some ingenious kid down the street. Regardless, these four short lines helped catapult Lizzie out of historical facts and an acquittal, and into the land of legends, her assumed guilt and our upcoming rock musical.

And just in case you are one of the few people who still has no idea what we are talking about, here’s an appropriately creepy audio recording of the rhyme. Anyone want to jump rope?




LIZZIE runs May 24 — June 29


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